The Future of Retail:
A Q&A with Google Cloud, Part 2
The future role technology and data will play on brick-and-mortar retail
As more people are getting vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions loosen across the country, U.S. consumers are increasingly headed back to in-store shopping. Amin Shahidi, vice president of strategy, alliances and M&A at Sensormatic Solutions, and Carrie Tharp, vice president of retail and consumer at Google Cloud, discuss the role the physical store will play in the future, how data will impact retail, and how Sensormatic Solutions and Google Cloud’s partnership will continue to evolve to stay ahead of retailers’ needs.
Given the rise in digital shopping, what role will the physical store play in the future? What digital capabilities are most critical to help retailers evolve their brick-and-mortar strategy?
Amin Shahidi: Post-COVID, we will continue to see the need for convenience with unified commerce (39% of shoppers still rely on in-store shopping as they want to seamlessly move across channels), as well as the utilization of BOPIS and curbside pickup fulfilment options. According to a McKinsey & Co. survey, 60% of US consumers who used BOPIS in 2020 say they will continue to do so after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. However, as retailers work to restore consumer confidence, and in-person shopping returns to pre-COVID levels, shoppers will expect richer experiences in addition to continued health and security protocols.
To meet these needs, retailers are evolving their in-store and digital capabilities to become smarter. As retailers embark on their digital transformation, there are several aspects of their business to consider, including investing in technology to digitize the in-store experience:
- Operations: Technology for greater operational efficiencies and automation for a more effective view of inventory, as well as labor efficiencies and allocation.
- Shopper Engagement: Integrating systems for better shopper engagement and experiences, such as digital displays, contextual content delivery systems, as well as shopper behavior analysis.
- Transactions: Innovations to help increase planning surrounding merchandising, pricing, and promotions to maximize returns and profits.
New, impactful technologies retailers are leveraging for operations, shopper engagement, and transactions include:
- Computer Vision: This will help stores manage “queue bursting” during fulfillment at curbside or secure BOPIS lockers by using their outside security cameras to trigger alerts when the number of people waiting exceeds a set threshold. It is one example of how computer vision will help improve the customer experience for these high demand fulfillment options.
- Digital engagement: It will be essential for the “try,” “check,” or “view” before you buy experience. In the store of the future, for example, digital engagement will allow shoppers to virtually view how a fridge, stove, and microwave look together before making a purchase decision.
- RFID: Initially, RFID was popular for in-store cycle counting, but today RFID extends to and provides visibility for the complete end-to-end value chain. This translates to better demand planning and more sustainable operations.
- 5G: From digital signage to video recognition of shoppers and more, 5G will provide stores the connectivity they need to power new technologies.
With more technologies deployed in-store, retailers will have more access to data than ever before. The question becomes, how will they make sense of it all and leverage the information to drive retail success? The pulse of “new retail” becomes data that is used to drive real-time automation as well as inform operational excellence. We’ll dive deeper into that shortly.
Carrie Tharp: The pandemic accelerated digital transformation and hyper personalization for many retailers. Now, as we look ahead to a post-pandemic experience, retailers need to consider how their consumers will continue to evolve their shopping behaviors and habits, and, in turn, proactively incorporate this into their digital commerce strategies both online and in stores. For brands, it’s all about getting in front of the consumer during that discovery phase, figuring out how to grab new shoppers’ attention, and drive on-going engagement with current customers.
Consumers are using mobile devices more than ever to search and shop – including while in store – making it important for retailers to continue to evaluate their infrastructure in order to keep up with consumer demands. By creating flexible architectures and platforms, retailers can do rapid tests and incorporate new experiences and services, regardless of channel. As a part of this, “a single view” of the customer, inventory, and the end-to-end supply chain is more important than ever. Data is at the center of driving these channel-less experiences of the future. By investing in these data and platform fundamentals – first assessing your current state against the end experience objectives you have – retailers can create a foundation with the flexibility needed to evolve experiences at their own pace. Those who can meet their customers where they are, across many channels, will be best positioned for the future.
How do you see data impacting the future of retail? How can retailers use data to make prescriptive and predictive decisions?
Shahidi: As I mentioned previously, with the availability of smart sensors, IoT infrastructure, and other external applications, retailers have more data at their fingertips. Because the data is also accompanied by increased integration and operational complexities, retailers will need to have strong data science to drive the analysis to inform decision making and drive automation.
For example, data is being used to shape the shopping experience by making it easier and more convenient (i.e. BOPIS and curbside pickup). Depending on the different retail personas (from CMO to in-store sales associate and beyond), product categories and shopper journeys, retailers can also use the insights to help understand what is happening inside – and outside – the store, and, in turn, convert it into meaningful insights as well as prescriptive and predictive outcomes.
Additionally, this abundance of data will drive real-time in-store automation. For example, sensors can alert employees to the presence of a returning customer and even generate offers or promotions based on that customer’s shopping history.
With Sensormatic IQ, retailers can achieve just that. Our intelligent operating platform integrates diverse data streams under a single platform umbrella, making it easy for retailers to act on intelligent, data-driven outcomes and generate the predictive and prescriptive insights that turn hindsight to foresight. For BOPIS and curbside transactions, this translates to accurate inventory counts (and fewer canceled transactions due to insufficient inventory) as well as optimized staffing during busy fulfillment hours, for example.
Tharp: As consumer routines have fundamentally shifted, there’s a new sense of urgency for retailers to digitally transform to keep up with consumers’ expectations, habits, and purchasing behaviors. It is important to note that the physical store is still a key part of a modern omni retailing strategy, and retailers are quickly evolving their in-store digital capabilities to create smarter stores.
Data is critical to understanding and responding to changing needs. Retailers can derive insights from data to better understand what is happening across the enterprise and make prescriptive, data-driven decisions. For example, the right technologies and solutions in place can align demand with inventory across and within stores, and even provide shrink prediction and prescription. Understanding in-store data streams are key to the online-to-offline journey, meeting customer expectations around in-store pickup and quick shipping, having more certainty around inventory, and more.
That’s why solutions like Sensormatic Solutions’ new intelligent operating platform, Sensormatic IQ, powered by Google Cloud, are critical to provide retailers the data and insights they need to drive digital transformation and make predictive decisions across the enterprise.
How do you see the partnership between Sensormatic Solutions and Google Cloud evolving to stay ahead of retailers’ needs?
Shahidi: We see a lot of synergy with Google Cloud’s commitment to advancing technology of e-commerce with our own expertise in retail processes, AI and analytics as well as brick-and-mortar retail operations. As a result, our strategic partnership with Google Cloud, enables us to collectively innovate and develop solutions that retailers need to keep up with their evolving digital transformation journey, especially as consumer behaviors change so rapidly.
While our relationship continues to evolve, leveraging Google’s latest technologies allows us to provide best-in-class technologies that offer retailers the ability to digitally transform with increased scalability and speed while deploying new capabilities on-demand.
Tharp: As consumer behaviors continue to change, the retail landscape will also need the tools and technologies to quickly adapt. Through our collaboration with Sensormatic Solutions, we’re giving retailers access to the solutions they need to stay one step ahead of the game. I am excited to continue our partnership with Amin and the Sensormatic team to bring retailers the right tools to build a successful retail strategy in today’s hyper-connected world.
Read part 1 where Sensormatic Solutions and Google Cloud discuss the challenges and opportunities retailers are facing today and where the industry is going.
To learn more about the Sensormatic Solutions and Google Cloud strategic partnership, please read our press release.
Sensormatic Solutions is a vital component of Johnson Controls’ OpenBlue technologies and innovations which leverage big data and AI to optimize healthy buildings. Sensormatic IQ further supports Johnson Controls mission to help customers meet their goals for healthy people, healthy places, and a healthy planet. To learn more about Johnson Controls and OpenBlue, go to JCI’s website.